What Is 'Better'?
As marketers, we are continually working to position our product or service as something "better": better than it was before, better than our competitor, something that will provide a better quality of life. How each of us defines better, however, depends on the context and the audience.
If you are a part of Twitter nation, you may subscribe to the "less is more" theory. Better means 140 characters as opposed to a lengthy email. Alternately, to an email marketer, bigger might be better (at least that is what I'm led to believe if I scan the subject lines in my junk mail folder).
If you're an AIG executive, bigger bonuses are definitely better. As a taxpayer, my definition of better would involve less money out of my pocket that gets funneled to failing financial institutions.
According to Steve Austin, the cost of building a better, stronger, faster man has a six-million-dollar price tag. Alex Rodriguez tried to achieve the same results with a little cash under the table and the helpful assistance of his cousin at the other end of a needle.
Who's right? Is better defined as bigger or smaller? Larger government stimulus payouts or a smaller tax bill? It all depends on whom you ask. The same is true in online advertising. We all want it to be better, but there are apparently many different paths to Internet advertising nirvana. How do we find the greener grass in this digital pasture? Let's look at a handful of ideas that have generated recent headlines.
According to the Online Publishers Association (OPA), the key is bigger ads. In a recent announcement, OPA proposed three new larger ad units. The theory is that one big ad will replace several smaller ads, increasing revenue potential through higher CPMs, and improving the user experience with a less cluttered page.
While there are valid reasons for these larger formats, we'll have to give this idea some time to see how it works in reality. However, I have a difficult time believing that publishers will not give in to the temptation to simply add the larger formats to their pages in addition to their existing ads, in an effort to generate incremental revenue. I'm also not aware of any uproar from consumers pleading with us, "Please give us bigger ads!"
Create Better Creative
Randall Rothenberg, President & CEO of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), is on a crusade to improve the creative element in our industry. Rothenberg blogged his "Manifesto on Interactive Advertising Creativity" prior to the 2009 IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, trying to ignite a conversation about the need for agencies, advertisers and publishers to increase their focus on creativity in the online advertising space.
This culture of creativity seems to have been lost in translation, somewhere between the teams of creative geniuses who collaborate on a 30-second TV spot and the single graphic designer churning out a 768x90 banner ad. Rothenberg's closing statement from his manifesto challenges our industry to get back to its roots: "Let's return to a time when advertising and media conversation was owned by the creatives, the editors, and the impresarios -- when it was dominated by debates about the craft of persuasion, about what moves people. After all, isn't that the reason we're in this business?"
Much has been written and discussed about the falling value of display ad pricing and how to build a foundation for premium pricing models. From the commoditization of ad inventory to the failing economy, there is no shortage of theories for the decline. Some would say that online publishers need to regain control of their ad inventory so they have more control over pricing. Others would point to the overemphasis on direct-response metrics that devalues the significance of brand advertising. There is also the simple law of supply and demand coming into play. The overabundance of inventory, combined with shrinking advertising budgets, are major factors in this conversation.
Let's not forget about the other side of this equation: the consumer. We all have our opinions and theories on how to improve online advertising to increase revenues for our industry, but who is speaking up for the consumer? As we look for new ways to monetize digital real estate, is there sufficient focus on the user experience?
So, how do we make Internet advertising better? Do we need bigger ads? Better creative? Different pricing models? What is your definition of better -- and how do we get there?
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